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Romano: How Florida could get ahead of the curve on marijuana laws — but probably won't

Florida can take lessons from the states that already have legalized marijuana.

Associated Press (2009)

Florida can take lessons from the states that already have legalized marijuana.

(The following is not a fact; it's more of a hunch.)

Just over a year from now, Florida voters will approve a medical marijuana amendment.

(The next sentence is also not a fact; it's more of an observation.)

And a day later, Florida will still be behind the marijuana curve.

Attitudes and laws are changing just that fast. The legalization of recreational pot is still an anomaly today, but it will be commonplace in some not-too-distant tomorrow.

If you have a hard time believing that, just consider the time line of same-sex marriage. Ten years ago, it seemed like some state was banning gay marriage every other weekend. Even liberal California pooh-poohed the idea in 2005. And again in '07 and '08.

Yet once same-sex marriage gained a bit of momentum, most people quickly realized that opposition was going to be pointless or senseless or some combination of the two.

Eventually, and soon, the legalization of marijuana will follow a similar path.

This is not an argument for or against the idea. It is an acknowledgement of its inevitability. And Florida might as well start preparing for its benefits and challenges.

Or here's another way of looking at it:

Do you trust the Tallahassee lawmakers who continue fighting something as demonstrably popular as medical marijuana, or do you have more faith in the business savvy of Silicon Valley's venture capitalists?

Because the people who helped create PayPal and invested in Facebook and Uber and Reddit have begun pouring money into companies specializing in marijuana.

There are respected analysts who consider marijuana to be the nation's next great growth market. One investment firm said the legal marijuana market went from $1.5 billion in sales in 2013 to $2.7 billion in 2014 with projections of $3.5 billion this year.

In Colorado, where recreational pot is legal, voters will go to the polls next month to decide how to spend more than $66 million in marijuana tax revenues collected in 2014. Those tax revenues are expected to top $100 million in 2015.

Four states have approved recreational marijuana sales, and Washington, D.C., allows residents to grow and use pot. The attorney general in Vermont expects the Legislature to approve sales in the coming months, and middle-America locales such as Ohio and Michigan are among a handful of states with their own legalized pot initiatives rolling.

So how should Florida approach the marijuana bandwagon?

Responsibly, for a change.

Unlike solar energy (which lawmakers are stubbornly resisting on behalf of big utilities), unlike same-sex marriage (which the attorney general ridiculously fought on behalf of the religious right), unlike medical marijuana (which the Legislature has tried to circumvent with watered-down bills), it would be nice to avoid playing defense in a losing cause.

Why wait for voters to pursue a constitutional amendment — which is never ideal — when lawmakers can craft legislation that more precisely fits Florida's needs?

Why give up potential tax revenues — which should be worth hundreds of millions every year — that could go to education, law enforcement and drug prevention programs?

Why continue to waste law enforcement time and money while clogging up courts and jails — not to mention saddling young adults with felony convictions — for a substance arguably less harmful than alcohol?

For once, Florida lawmakers need to approach an issue with logic instead of emotion. The direction of marijuana reform is apparent, and neither grandstanding nor delay will change that direction.

There are legitimate concerns about the consequences of legalized pot.

So a responsible lawmaker would be looking right now at the lessons of Colorado and Washington, D.C., for guidance. A responsible lawmaker would be considering the ramifications unique to Florida. A responsible lawmaker would stay ahead of the issue with solid rules and regulations instead of chasing it with partisan sound bites.

But here's our problem:

How many responsible lawmakers do we have?

Romano: How Florida could get ahead of the curve on marijuana laws — but probably won't 10/17/15 [Last modified: Saturday, October 17, 2015 7:25pm]
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